An issue regarding a number of ballot papers being brought to the attention of a number of candidates and their representatives during the 2019 local elections in the Castlebar Municipal District. PHOTO: ALISON LAREDO

Mayo councillors brace themselves for a revolt at the ballot box

by Caoimhín Rowland

The year 1998 bore witness to Galway GAA manager John O'Mahony informing his players in the dressing room that the media had described the team as "Fancy Dans" who "get the simple things wrong."

The excellent documentary A Year ‘Til Sunday gave us this insight back in a world when bainisteoirí across the land were more favourable to press intrusion.

We all know what those so-called Fancy Dans went on to do later that year.

More significantly, a clichéd trope was born; journalists feared writing off anyone for fear their words were to be plastered on the dressing room wall.

Opinion polls are the closest equivalent to this GAA phenomenon; being written off in the run-up to voting can be a silver lining.

One such example was a January 2020 survey carried out by TG4 that suggested in Galway West that the Green party would pick up a seat at the expense of independent TD Noel Grealish.

The research garnered headlines across broadsheets as a sign of an impending Green surge across the country; we know now, that Grealish performed excellently, romping home in second place behind poll-topper Eamon Ó Cuív.

In the aftermath of the election four years ago, Grealish thanked the poll for securing his position in Dáil Eireann. Without being written off he may not have drawn such a large vote; “It was the best thing that ever happened,” he said.

Four months remain until the day of reckoning for councillors in Mayo; fears of a revolt at the ballot box are aplenty, particularly for establishment party politicians.

The 2020 general election showed a paradigm shift from the Mayo electorate, the first Sinn Féin TD elected since the foundation of the state and diminishing votes for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Councillors from both parties know all too well the sentiment on the ground is one of neglecting the status quo.

For politicians rumoured to be under threat, simply look at the last few elected in each ward, Cyril Burke, Donna Sheridan, and Martin McLoughlin in Castlebar, Jarlath Munnelly of Fine Gael in Ballina, and Tom Connolly in Claremorris.

Thoughts of dusting off the CV and updating LinkedIn profiles may not be far away.

Politics in Mayo has changed. Roscommon ditched both civil war parties and the Galway West constituency elected two independents, one Sinn Féin, and only one each for the governing duo.

Possessing a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael brand looks like it will do more harm than good for councillors in the county for the first time in living memory.

A move to the right by our local elected representatives is an attempt to curry favour towards the stream of discontent that has captured Ireland.

Mayo has been a different county since 2020, pre-pandemic bliss sees a populace impatient and jaded. Tired of the same issues that on the surface seem never-ending.

With a housing crisis worsening, a health care system imploding, and a rising cost of living, dissatisfaction is rife.

Perhaps our politicians also ‘get the simple things wrong’.

John O’Mahony’s success in his native Mayo came at the ballot box, a TD from 2007 to 2016 and a senator from 2016 to 2020. He was part of a historic Fine Gael sweep in Enda’s coronation back then.

Fine Gael anoraks will be over the moon to get half of that 2007 haul in the next general election.

Sinn Féin assumes the position of the protest vote, but those pesky polls, far out from voting, show they are struggling to capture the hearts and minds of voters, not to mention a lack of people to run for them.

The merry-go-round of public opinion will continue, but make no mistake, shocks will spring from the count centre on June 7.